Cooperative Baptist Fellowship representatives joined other faith leaders April 17 protesting the annual conference of the trade association representing the payday lending industry this week at the Trump National Resort in Doral in Miami.
Observers say the venue for the 2018 Community Financial Services Association of America conference and expo is no coincidence. The Associated Press included the gathering in February as one of a number of groups with lobbying interests scheduling meetings, retreats and conferences at hotels and golf resorts owned by President Donald Trump, creating an appearance of “pay for play.”
“We believe it’s a conflict of interest,” Hamlin, one of the dozen-plus protestors, told the Miami New Times. “This administration has business before it that is of key concern to payday lenders, and the payday lenders are taking money they have stolen from hardworking families and giving it to the president to make sure he does right by them.”
Payday loans are short-term, small-dollar loans used by millions of Americans who live from paycheck to paycheck to cover an unexpected expense. The industry is widely criticized for its lobbying tactics and a business model that opponents label as predatory lending.
Stephen Reeves. CBF associate coordinator for partnerships and advocacy, called the April 16-19 CFSAA gathering “a picture of so much of what is wrong with our country.”
“So-called ‘businessmen’ who see hard working Americans not as those created in God’s image, not as neighbors, not even as fellow citizens worthy of respect, but instead as potential profit centers who, in their struggle, are ripe for the picking,” Reeves said.
“They’re willing to use the billions taken from folks living paycheck to paycheck to perpetuate and expand their immoral and wildly profitable scam,” Reeves continued. “They’ve got hundreds of lawyers, lobbyists and bought-off politicians — all too willing to oblige as long as the contributions keep flowing. Sadly this is a bipartisan affair.”
Rachel Gunter Shapard, associate coordinator of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida, said payday lending catches borrowers in a vicious cycle of debt.
“Their loan is immediately paid off because it’s taken right out of the top of their income,” she told Miami/South Florida public radio station WLRN. “And then there’s a hole in their budget and they can’t pay their rent, they can’t buy groceries, they have to immediately turn around and take out another loan.”
The Community Financial Services Association of America and the Consumer Service Alliance of Texas recently filed a federal lawsuit challenging a new rule by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau labeling it an unfair practice for lenders to make high-cost payday and vehicle title loans without determining if the borrower has the ability to repay.
The complaint, filed in United States District Court in Austin, Texas, claims the final CFPB rule issued last October “rests on unfounded presumptions of harm and misperception about consumer behavior” and “was motivated by a deeply paternalistic view that consumers cannot be trusted with the freedom to make their own financial decisions.”
Predatory lending, along with immigration and refugees, is a primary focus of CBF Advocacy, a program designed to empower Fellowship voices to “exercise responsible Christian citizenship by modeling a more effective, positive and inclusive public witness for the church.”
“Predatory lenders are here today likely talking about regulatory uncertainty, customer retention and developing brand loyalty,” Reeves said. “What they’re looking for are loopholes to evade laws meant to restrain their greed, and new products to create a tighter and deeper trap.”